Travel: Bernini's Rome
The Oldie Magazine|August 2020
Travel: Bernini's Rome
No artist left a greater mark on the city than the great baroque sculptor and architect. Loyd Grossman follows in his footsteps
Loyd Grossman

Before we start…

Wear comfortable shoes. The sampietrini – little basalt blocks – that pave the streets of Rome are beautiful to look at, but hell on the feet.

Allow frequent stops for coffee, mineral water and aperitivi: Rome was not walked in a day.

It is almost impossible to devise a non-Bernini walking tour of Rome: no artist has ever left such a mark on a city.

Throughout his very long – he lived to be 81, a considerable age in the 17th century – and varied career as a sculptor, architect, town planner and designer, Bernini adorned Rome with buildings, fountains, tombs and monuments.

In the age of Rembrandt, Velázquez and Rubens, Bernini was the most highly regarded artist in Europe with the greatest patrons of all, a succession of opulent, free-spending Popes.

I hope that you have already visited or will visit the Galleria Borghese, which displays Bernini’s great mythological pieces and his David. You will also want to visit the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria where the centrepiece of Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel is his shockingly orgasmic Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. What follows is a deep dive into Bernini that can be done in a day.

A good beginning is Piazza del Popolo and an early-morning coffee sitting on the terrace of the Caffè Canova, looking across the square to the Porta del Popolo, for centuries the entrance to Rome for visitors from the north.

The façade of the Porta was redesigned by Bernini in 1655 to welcome the arrival of the abdicated Queen Christina of Sweden. Daughter of the Protestant hero Gustavus Adolphus and newly converted to Catholicism, Christina was a top-hole papal trophy; hence the inscription on the gate commemorating ‘a happy and propitious entrance’.

Unfortunately, Christina turned out to be a troublesome guest, forever demanding, forever plotting.

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August 2020